Why doctors need to be financially independent

Most people would want to become financially independent, but some of us want to be financially independent (FI) much earlier in life. There are plenty of reasons (including some very obvious ones) why anyone would want FI, but I’ve seen one consistent theme over the years regarding FI:

Work is more enjoyable if money is not a factor. 

I’ve wavered on this conclusion for years, and no matter how much I try to dismiss this notion, it keeps recurring. I see the most blatant of this in the doctors in my clinic. Many doctors gripe about having to see more patients. Often the finances dictate that in order to remain net neutral, a physician needs to see one more patient. Sometimes, it’s one more patient per day. Other times, it’s one more patient every other day. Is seeing one additional patient per day or week too onerous? Perhaps, but the interestingly, the doctors that fight the most about seeing one more patient often spend their weekends or vacations volunteering at free clinics!

How ironic is that?



How can one logically refuse to see one more patient in a day of clinic yet be willing to spend an entire day doing the same thing pro bono?

Humans are illogical. I know doctors who come from significant levels of inherited wealth (read: several generations-worth of extreme wealth) who work at academic institutions at salaries in the tenth percentile of the expected norm. Frankly, I’ve never asked them why they do this, but my impression is that this particular type of job is absolutely rewarding for reasons other than financially. Kudos to them that they didn’t have to rack up over $148,000 in medical school debt.

With FI, you can always walk away 

Sometimes patient care is stressful. Sometimes the administrative aspects of medicine are stressful. Administration and insurance companies are the two aspects of medicine that I hate the most. Sometimes these are the factors that cause doctors to quit or retire.

If you are not working for the money, you can walk away from a bad practice situation without worrying about feeding your family. You could find other career options elsewhere without having to clamp down your finances. Hell, even if you don’t leave a bad practice situation, FI might allow you not to care so much about the small stuff.

Life is just better if your livelihood doesn’t depend on your day job. Period.


Why would a doctor even want to retire early?  

The general population of doctors really do balk at the notion of early retirement. Why? We leave a relatively high income on the table by not working. A significant amount of our life is spent training to achieve our unique skill set. It would be a waste to curtail a potentially 25-30 year working career to do something else, especially if you had taken up a valuable medical school and residency spot from someone else who would have otherwise worked for thirty years.

The truth is that the goal of financial independence is not to quit early—it’s to allow yourself the option of not having to your job dictate your life. The premise of FI is that you can choose to do whatever the hell you wanted and still have enough to feed your family, take reasonable vacations and trips, and stay healthy and happy. It doesn’t mean that you take excessive luxury vacations every month.

For a doctor, this means that you can spend more time taking care of your patients, taking care of your family, and taking care of yourself. Most doctors I know actually like what they do.

What are you doing to get closer to FI?


Photo courtesy of Flickr.

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